Magazine article Marketing

Is One Stop Enough?

Magazine article Marketing

Is One Stop Enough?

Article excerpt

Louella Miles investigates the clients' dilemma: whether to entrust their business to a one-stop shop or run with a number of agencies

In the 80s, when PR consultancies acquired offshoots at the drop of a hat, the one-stop shop had its heyday. Bigger firms talked gleefully of polarisation, with medium-sized firms being squeezed out of existence.

Ten years on, the market has indeed polarised, but not quite in the way anticipated. League tables show that the number of medium-sized firms has shrunk, but they also reveal that many at the top have shed acquisitions no longer relevant to their core business.

All of which can only be good news for clients. If they opt for the one-stop shop approach, they can be confident that the consultancy will have had to display proven management and PR skills in order to survive the recession.

Among the specialist agencies, too, clients will probably benefit from a higher level of service. While senior people may have been the casualties of cost cutting in big firms, conversely they provide companies at the other end of the spectrum with a pool of talent previously unavailable.

Which approach to choose depends, according to Thom Noble, marketing director of Callitheke, on the company and its brands. He has put his five brands, Dexters, Purdey's, Norfolk Punch, Aqua Libra, and the more recently acquired Clearly Canadian into Biss Lancaster's hands. The account switched from Counsel last autumn. The decision to keep the brands together in one consultancy was not taken lightly.

"You need to spend time thinking what you want out of PR at any point in time and then assess your strengths and weaknesses against those objectives," he says.

Noble has experience of both approaches to PR. When he was at Foster's, it had a number of agencies working in tandem. At Callitheke he deals with five distinct drinks in a completely different environment.

"By using one agency you get the benefit of the championing approach," he says. "You have different teams working on different brands. We try to keep the energy and commitment of a brand team fighting their corner but ensure co-ordination within the agency."

The choice of specialist versus one-stop shop is one of the most difficult decisions for a client to make. If they opt for more than one agency they will get the competitive element, but will the corporate message suffer? At Whitbread, the sheer scale of the operation means a tightly-knit central PR team is essential to achieve control.

But the message must still be appropriate to the audience. "To somebody who walks into Pizza Hut, it is not relevant that it is part of the Whitbread Group," says Fiona Davies-Coleman, Whitbread corporate communications manager, "but it might be to an investor or supplier."

Some parts of the organisation, such as the Whitbread Beer Company, might have more than one consultancy working for them at any one time. In this instance the trade side is handled by Richard Mulcaster Associates and the consumer by Bryant and Jackson.

Other subsidiaries might rely on one, with the Beefeater chain using Beechy Morgan, nationally and regionally, while TGIF prefers Flynn Communications. Attitudes towards PR depend on which side of the business is at stake.

"Across the Whitbread business we have a number of PR agencies," says Davies-Coleman, who is part of a four-strong team. "We choose them on the basis of specialist knowledge. With the Beer Company the main area of business is to supply beer to the trade, so you need an active trade programme. "Only a handful of PR companies could handle it. Bryant and Jackson is small and specialised and has worked with us for some time. The branded part of the business, by contrast, is newer and tends to change agencies more often depending on the brand," he says.

Monitoring PR throughout the group is a tough task, not least because some companies are more promiscuous in their hiring of consultancies than others. …

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